A Life in a Day

I awake each morning in a confused state, not knowing where I am. In the first moments my dreams flitter between the unconscious and conscious and then have gone, out of reach, I am only certain that I never dream about being here. I reach behind my head and pull the curtains. The light does not flood but rather seeps into the room; that northern European muted pale summer grey. It is both comforting and subduing.

The knowledge and pain of reality are still present but apart from me, though I can see it waiting, slung over a chair like my clothes, to be adorned, ready to face the day. At the moment my thoughts are gossamer thin, I can feel everything and nothing. My body rises from the bed and I can shower and dress but only as I slowly become more alert, will the knowledge become real and tangible.

The shower is indisputable. There Is no cold or hot water here. Nor are there any controls. The sensor knows more than I do when I am there and when I am not. I am enveloped in warm water that requires no thought or feeling. It simply is. The shower of mindlessness. I am tempted to stand under the water for hours, but by its very conformity to time, the shower too is rule bound, and I must leave.

What to wear? It matters too much yet matters not. The temperature is the same inside and out, clothes are simply my protective shell and form an appropriate response to social norms; my age, the weather, the current trend. Sometimes I get it wrong, but mostly not.

I fear the chemistry of medication. I would rather leave my body to its natural rhythms; to feel pain, rather than to mask it, but this is not an option. The extent to which I have resisted has been slowly broken down. Twice a day I stand obediently at the stable door of the dispensary, ready to be sedated and normalised. I would prefer to accept unquestionably the huge variety of coloured tablets which have been prescribed but I have to become focussed; I have noted that in their haste, the staff are not always correct. I have become an unwilling expert. My job in real life does not allow for error. I feel the tingle of frustration, but I smile and smile and conform.

Breakfast is by far the easiest meal of the day, I have the energy to battle the voice that resists. Yet even so, I have to score a victory. I pour less than the prescribed milk and cereal into my bowl, yet I eat the additional banana. I fear loss of control, the one balances the other. My fellow diners this morning are polite yet reserved, conversation is limited to the necessary. I find enough room in my head for the milk and cereal, the toast and peanut butter, the fruit juice and family-sized banana. I feel sated and bloated. How can I consume these extra calories when I am not allowed to even stand let alone move for a whole 9 hours in each day?

After each meal is a rest period of two hours when no type of exercise is permitted, including standing up. This is policed carefully by the ever watchful staff. Again, the tingle of frustration, sharper and more focussed this time. The toilets are in lock-down until the end of rest period. Forgetting to use them before a meal results in either having to hold on to the discomfort or suffer the consequence of being scrutinised. Dignity dictates that It’s usually better to adopt the former.

There is no option for solitude. I am checked up on every 15 minutes, including all through the night when a torch is shone onto my face. I am not sure why this is unless it is simply to check I am still alive. Between rest periods, I am allowed two 10 minute walks out, but am shackled by the presence of a chaperone. I long to have space alone in the open air. I dream of walking, steadily, one foot in front of the other, unbound by time, until I reach the top of a mountain and can gain the perspective I am craving. Instead I walk around the hospital grounds and make conversation with a nurse. I am lucky that small talk comes easily, it’s part of my armoury, but I would still rather have my own company, just for a few precious minutes, even just to enjoy the stunning view of Oxford from the nearby park.

Back again, a call to arms comes all too quickly; yet another visit to the dining room, this time for a snack. The routine is monotonous yet soothing. Every meal is a battle. The rigidity of the rules of combat are clear and so there is no cause for misunderstanding. The only problem is that I do not know whose side I am supposed to be on.

Life on the Edge 

So I have survived in Camp Eat for a whole week. I’ve been getting by but in an unfocused, numbed sort of way. This is purely self protection as otherwise I’d be tailgating someone right out of that door. I am able to have my two allotted 10 minute walks out with staff while I plod alongside and make desultory conversation but they are not always able to make time to accompany me and so I am having to discover alternative methods of distraction from the anxiety. For someone who is normally constantly on the go (and I know this is exactly what got me into this mess), this is a huge shock to the system.

The crazy camp rules are magnified by being an inpatient. This morning I was awakened at 5.50am to be weighed. There’s a queue for medication 3 times a day and given that I am living with 14 other highly competitive and controlling types of people I’ll leave that particular scenario to your imagination. Everyone is always very polite and controlled but there are undercurrents within the undercurrents. Communication is often by half smiles and glances. Silence at the dinner table is heavy with the unsaid.

I have been engaging with craft activities which is something I would never ordinarily have the time or inclination to do. There’s a whole new world of mosaics, scrap books, painting and colouring which I have enjoyed despite myself. Later, Dave comes and taps me on the metaphorical shoulder and whispers; ‘you must be a head case; fancy you knitting and sticking rather than engaging with a normal productive life. Man up for goodness sake’.

When I feel down I lose the capability to articulate my distress, I can only smile and say I am fine, otherwise I would have to find the means to communicate. I am having to keep the distressed, scared child locked in its cupboard for now.

Bread massacre – who can get he thinnest slice !!

Free Will or Obedience 

So yesterday I learned that in the last 7 days I’ve managed to lose 3 weeks worth of weight gain and thus 3 weeks are added to my recovery time. I am completely baffled as to how this can be the case. Yes I have been some cutting corners with the meal plan here and there, as I have every week, I am after all no saint, but I have been eating at the very least adequately. I can only think it must be down to over-activity, or that the NHS scales were broken. The worst thing by far is that I have not yet been given the opportunity to talk this through properly with any professional and so feel confused and frustrated by the loss of yet another 3 weeks of my life.

I feel increasingly as if I am in a reverse concentration camp where hard labour is forbidden and food is enforced, or perhaps a character in a Kafka novel. I have lost my free will. There is a nightmarish oppressive quality underlying every moment of every day that I am here. It is a setting that straddles a dystopian fantasy and reality. I am hopeless yet full of hope. Recovery is a palace which seems vast and impossible to attain. I am overwhelmed by the sense of impossibility and futility, yet I have an immense yearning and hope. These incompatible sensations all assail me at the same time. It makes me want to run so I can leave it behind.

I need to escape this place for my own sanity yet escape is fraught with danger; I know I need to try and engage with the process for my own good. It doesn’t help that I’ve put myself back by 3 weeks – it obviates the whole reason I am going though the torture, but as Winston Churchill said, if you’re going through hell, keep going.

Today, I had to use every last ounce of determination even to drive to the hospital. Once here, I am yet again overwhelmed by the rigid regulations and lack of freedom. It’s slowly but effectively killing my sense of self. I feel both out of place yet part of a disordered and disjointed community.

I skipped the nutrition group this morning because I felt unable to take more of the constant brainwashing and asked if instead I could have a walk. I was allowed 5 minutes but had to leave my bag and keys behind. Every part of me wanted to rebel and drive away but I didn’t- I walked for 5 minutes and returned to the burrow like a good bunny.

Today we are having a lunch picnic in a local park. Let me make this clear, this is not a special treat. Apparently taking sandwiches already made up is disordered. Normal people make sandwiches in situ. Really? Meal deals from Tesco are clearly only for the eating disordered. This picnic has already been the subject of far too much discussion, both formal and informal. Apparently on a picnic you wouldn’t add margarine to a bread roll so we have to eat them dry. We need to make up for this by the addition of a chocolate bar. This edict necessitated a meeting which lasted a whole hour and we still have both the picnic and the picnic post mortem to look forward to later. How can I have come to this?

I desperately want to recover and I acknowledge I need the help to do so but right now i’m not sure I can take much more of the punishment.

Must keep swimming….

The good news is that we had a lovely weekend mooching around the shops on Saturday and then visiting Canons Ashby with a picnic on Sunday. Wish I’d managed the actual tea shop for food but then again the cakes in there were huge! (As were one or two of the customers) Later, I spent some time with the ponies. I had more energy than I have had for months and was able to put this to good although not necessarily physically beneficial use. It made me realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel and not only is recovery possible but the quality of my life will be so much better and is absolutely worth aiming for. It’s difficult to keep a grasp of this at all times but there are some occasional glimpses of what it is like to be fit and healthy and not allowing the punishing perfectionism to always gain precedence over living in the moment and enjoying being alive.

Pony time…..

I am attempting to keep on an even keel and think I am managing quite well for the most part though at the end of last week I had another unexpected and unannounced cliff-fall moment in an art therapy session! It would be helpful if I could have had some warning next time please brain, but it never seems to happen that way. The remit was to draw a pie chart with a pictorial representation of the most important things in your life. I drew a literal pie on an NHS plate (no food obsession or anything!) and divided my pie into three. One part was work; I drew a desk and a huge pile of files about to squash me. Second was family and friends; I was standing to one side while everyone else was together. The third was my need to exercise and be out in the open air. When I realised how important but how stressful these things are to me and what I had actually lost I was in pieces. I protect myself very successfully almost all of the time by putting everything into a box and firmly sticking down the lid. Not sure I really like it to be opened.

Jeremy Corbyn spotted at Canons Ashby…

Today I attended the weekly clinical team meeting. It was not as positive as I hoped. I have made a little less progress than I could have which is partly down to the challenge I have with eating the high calorie desserts at home but mainly because I have been doing a little too much exercise. That’s not to say that I have been running half marathons, far from it, but there is clearly a balance to be struck, and when spending time with other normal people, it’s very difficult not to join in with the activity. Especially if you’re me. I think Cornwall is going to be challenging next weekend unless I tie myself to a chair! I was disappointed too that I still wasn’t given the go ahead to drive thanks to some results not being quite as they should be. Ah well. Onwards and upwards. Next week maybe.


Beano, you have life so right. This should be me.

Day Three and the Weigh in…

It’s the end of day three at the clinic but day five of my ‘progress’ towards full health. It seems that it has been decreed by those who know best that the term ‘recovery’ is somehow unhelpful, but however it’s labelled it comes down to the same thing; which is being able to lead a normal, full and happy life.

A large part of the healing process for me so far has been the opportunity to talk to fellow sufferers. It has lessened my deadening sense of isolation and the feeling that no one can really fully understand what it is that I am battling with. The immense courage and humour of every patient at Cotswold House is truly humbling, and I can only hope to emulate that. The weeks and months leading up to my admission were like feeling a constant physical pain from which there was no alleviation. However far I ran or walked or wriggled Dave followed me around with his teeth firmly in my shoulder like some sort of parasite and I am so grateful that I have the opportunity and support to attempt to put him well and truly in his box.

That’s not to say that the rigidly performed rules and regulations aren’t still difficult to come to terms with. They are; and given the other patients’ responses I can see that this is something that doesn’t get any easier. I was in trouble again today. Measuring jugs are used for everything with any liquidity and also for some things that are decidedly solid. Once you have poured your 200ml of milk or juice into the jug you then need approval from a member of staff before it can be consumed. I committed the cardinal sin of measuring the milk but then pouring it onto my cereal before said approval today and my reprimand was uncomfortably public. I think there’s some positivity to be gained from being able to appreciate that though apparently necessary, this is in no way reflective of normal life. In order to maintain a sense of self and combat the possibility of becoming mad and institutionalised I can’t afford to lose sight of this.

I have been outmanoeuvred too on the tea and coffee front. I categorically cannot have either drink without milk but if I don’t like squash I have to drink 200ml of fruit juice. Given that this provides me with at least another 90 calories twice a day Dave wasn’t best pleased but at least I don’t have to drink industrial strength Ribena. Might have to man up on the milk on reflection.

This morning I was weighed for the first time since my admission last Thursday and Rosie is pleased to report that she has indeed gained a little weight although Dave is beside himself. I found the process excessively difficult, particularly as the figure on the scales was noted down with no accompanying comment. I have been paying far too much attention to Dave since then who has been asking me how I can possibly compensate for this unprecedented weight gain. And that, my friends, is probably why it’s best that I am at Cotswold House and not still attempting to deal with Dave myself!

I have quickly learnt that everything has an acronym which remains cryptic to the uninitiated. I was asked on Friday if I had received my TTH’s. Not wanting to sound stupid, I said er, no, I don’t think I have. I decided I would probably have known if someone had given me something as exciting sounding and have looked forward to receiving them all weekend. I learnt this afternoon that it in fact stands for the disappointingly prosaic ‘To Take Home’ and refers to medication.

Today I also attended my first weekly individual CTM (Clinical Team Meeting). The CTM comprises a variety pack of 6 staff members and appears to be a conduit to ask questions to which no answers will be revealed. I asked if my very recent weight gain rate was normal to which I did not receive the reassurance I was seeking; I asked if I could drive, and was told that they would discuss this ‘later’. I then went for the jugular and asked if I could have ‘leave’ at the end of May so that we could have a long weekend away as a family and was informed that yes, on principle, but it really depends on progress and in the UK only. Easy to plan then. I will have to devise methods of subversion for next time.

Despite this diversion, the hours still dragged, I try and fill my time with crosswords and reading, but concentration is surprisingly difficult. I killed some time between feeding times by using my 10 minute allowance off the ward only to get horribly lost in a nearby wooded area (those who know me well also know that I have no sense of direction). In fact I was away for almost 25 minutes and had to sneak back incognito and tell a white lie on the signing in form. Think I got away with it.

Tomorrow is yet more meetings, I forget the acronym but one involves the reading out and discussion of ‘comments and suggestions’ placed anonymously in a box over the course of the week. How can that possibly be a good idea?! I’m thinking I might possibly have some fun in this one. The other is a group meeting in which people share their problems and reportedly all come out crying. Oh great.